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Laying the Foundation for Regional Cooperation: Migration Policy & Institutional Capacity in Mexico and Central America

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexique, Panama
Amérique centrale, Amérique du Nord et Caraïbes
Migration Policy Institute (MPI)
A.G. Ruiz, A. Tanco, L. Argueta, J. Bolter, A. Selee

The region that stretches from Panama northward to the United States is a major corridor for unauthorized migration. In recent years, most people on the move have come from Guatemala, Honduras, and, to a lesser extent, El Salvador. But there has also been an increasing number of migrants from outside the region who pass through Central America on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. Amid these changing migration patterns, countries in this region have an unprecedented opportunity to work together to lay the foundation for a regional migration system that privileges safe, orderly, and legal movement.
A critical first step to capitalizing on this opportunity is understanding these countries’ institutional capacities, legal frameworks, and migration and asylum policies. This report takes stock of these elements of migration-management systems in Mexico and Central America, drawing insights in part from interviews with more than 75 policymakers, civil-society leaders, and other stakeholders.
In recent years, the analysis finds, Mexico and Costa Rica have taken steps to leverage their existing migration institutions to improve operational capacity, though notable challenges remain. Meanwhile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama are at earlier stages in this process. Across the region, international organizations play an important role in supporting these efforts, while civil society is vital to expanding migrants’ access to protection mechanisms and reintegration supports.
Among the major areas the report identifies as important for capacity-building efforts are: developing clear migration policymaking processes; professionalizing border and immigration enforcement efforts, with an emphasis on transparency and sensitivity to the circumstances of families, children, and other vulnerable migrants; and investing in asylum systems, protection mechanisms for people displaced within countries, and reintegration programs for returning migrants. Such efforts, the authors note, would not only help governments in the region more effectively address current migration issues, they also promise to better equip them to proactively respond to future challenges.